All over the world, people are protesting being given the short end of the economic stick. The cry is a unified one: ‘We are the 99%’. A 99% that is protesting the fact that in 2009 for example, 35.6% of America’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of 1% of its population, and resorted to occupying Wall Street, the nation’s financial center. The protests have spread across the country and across borders, and were influenced by the occupation of Tahrir Square, which was successful in removing Hosni Mubarak.
At its heart, the ‘Occupy’ protests are a smorgasbord of people who demand more economic equality, who have come to ‘chant down Babylon’, which represents political systems increasingly dominated by all kinds of special interests, in different countries around the world for the benefit of a few. As this movement has grown, its lack of clear demands and apparent leaderlessness especially in the US, has been a source of spirited debate, which some say reflects the flat, egalitarian nature of the internet age, but frustrates others.
With a battle over removal of petrol subsidies looming in Nigeria and the attendant hardship that will bring, some have the desire for a Nigerian version of ‘Occupy’, but the question as to what the protests are supposed to achieve, should they ever happen, has also arisen. It is said that if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you get there, so I have decided to share my own thoughts as to what the Nigerian people must demand from their government. I will make it as exhaustive as possible. Other opinions are very welcome.
1. Recurrent expenditure is 74% of our budget. The demand should be that the figure reduces by 10% (as against the 1% proposed by the Finance Minister) for the next four budget cycles, while capital expenditure also goes up by 10% every year. The Federal Government needs to shed some of its responsibilities, and let the states handle them.
2. States need to eat only what they kill. The ultimate aim is to put an end to the monthly ‘pocket money’ governors run to Abuja to collect. States should fund their recurrent expenditure from IGR, while the Federal Allocation is used for capital projects. This is a first step towards 100% resource control. Allocations for Local governments should also not be tampered with, so that all tiers of government can work without interference and every area of the country can develop at their own pace.
3. The passage of a Petroleum Industry Bill that will be in Nigeria’s best interests is paramount. The operations of the NNPC and Petroleum Ministry can no longer be the subject of hearsay. It is too important, at least for now. Transparency and ease of access to their records, in my view, is non-negotiable because the corruption that comes with the secrecy is not sustainable.
4. The removal of the Federal Character and Immunity clauses from the Constitution.
5. The amendment of the Land Use Act of 1978, which vests all land in the hands of state governors. Land must go back to the people for use in agriculture and business.
6. It takes 28 days to register a business in this country. That is too long. There is too much red tape involved in doing business here. A lot of inefficiencies are created in order for a few people to profit, to the detriment of the economy. The processes required to open a business need to be simplified, and made possible online. The Corporate Affairs Commission must be a target of major reforms.
The fuel subsidy debate is a symptom of larger problems: the management of our oil wealth over decades, and the foundation on which our nation is built. It is finally time to address some of these key issues. Every moment wasted will only make them that much harder to fix, but the debate must be driven towards specifics, or else it could be hijacked.
At the end of the day, this could be the point when a lot of people start to take a lot of interest in the machinery of government, with the aim of forcing change, or it could be the same old story: one of constant adjustment. We shall see.